The most recent edition of the rag published by the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council (NCCRC) has news of the promotion of two staffers: Jay Bradshaw to Executive Director of the 46 Northern California Counties Conference Board and Tim Lipscomb to Director of Organizing. I knew them both very well.
Jay joined the Carpenters Union as a young fighting socialist back in the 1980s. I knew him well. We were both members of Labor Militant, which was the predecessor to Socialist Alternative. In those days, we didn’t pull any punches as far as the union bureaucracy, nor would we even have considered supporting any Democrats. Jay was happy to take that position back then.
Then, after he joined the carpenters union, he took a job as an “organizer” for the union. He completely dropped all his socialist ideas as well as his fighting spirit… and got a nice, guaranteed, fat paycheck. In the great 1999 San Francisco Bay Area carpenters wildcat strike, Jay and the rest of the appointed staffers were tasked with trying to break that strike. He came out to the carpenters picket line at the SF airport, tried to talk with some carpenters – who roundly rejected him – and ended up hanging out with the cops and management. In this video, Bradshaw (in black leather jacket and white hard hat) appears at minute 3:35, and the carpenters give him a piece of their mind.
He’s been rewarded for his loyal service to a completely failing strategy with this nice, fat promotion and a chance to hang out with other “important” people.
I first met Tim when he and a small group of residential carpenters started coming to the meetings of Local 713. That was back in 1997 or 98. They were motivated to come by the rotten deal the regional council director, John Casey, was forcing down their throats. Already working under an inferior contract, they were forced to work under even worse conditions by sweetheart one-job agreements that Casey was signing. At one point, Casey came to meet with them and made it clear that they were facing an uphill battle if they wanted this rotten deal to stop. The whole little group got demoralized and scattered. Some just went back to work as it was. Others went into contracting. Tim was offered a job as an “organizer” for the Council.
He asked me what I thought. “Don’t do it,Tim,” I told him. “If you take that job, you will have sold out within a year, and the worst part is that you won’t even realize it until it’s too late.” (They used to try to get me to take such a position for exactly the same reason.)
About a year later, the contract settlement came up – the same one that we wildcatted over. I saw Tim in the hiring hall and we got to discussing the contract. “The contractors I’m working with [that was the term he used – “working with”] can’t afford to pay more,” he said. “Yeah, but the carpenters I know can’t afford to live on this,” I replied. Back and forth we went.
“Hold it,” I told Tim after a few such exchanges. “Do you realize what’s happening here? You’re arguing about what the contractors say they can afford and I’m arguing about what the carpenters need… Do you remember when I told you that you’d end up selling out and you wouldn’t even realize it? Well, here it is.”
Tim’s jaw dropped. He was speechless.
As for the head of the Council – Bobby Alvarado – I knew him when he was an apprentice. I always felt that he was personally ambitious and never was a real union fighter. He wasn’t then and he isn’t now. One time, when he was urged to oppose my expulsion, he is reported to have said “I’m not going to get into a pissing match with Doug McCarron (the International president).” Why should he? It wouldn’t help his career.
Carpenters Union strategy failing
Meanwhile, the entire strategy of the building trades as far as organizing is a dismal failure. You would think that during a construction boom, the building trades would be able to wipe out the non-union. Well, think again. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 14.7% of construction workers were represented by a union. By 2018 that figure had declined to 13.8%. Just look around you: From Seattle to Oakland to New York City, large commercial projects are going non union as never before.
And what is the response of the union bureaucracy?
Cut the wages and benefits. In Alaska and in Western Washington, the Carpenters Union leadership has pushed through contracts which abandon the pension plan. Working carpenters accrue no more hours towards their pension. They do get the annuity, but that is a “defined contribution” vs. a “defined benefit” plan, meaning that what they get out of it depends on the stock market.
But the Jay Bradshaws, Tim Lipscombs and Bobby Alvarados don’t have to worry. Their International pension, paid for by the working carpenter’s dues, keeps rolling right along.
Nor do they have to worry about the disastrous wage cuts rank and file carpenters recently had forced down their throats in New York City. That won’t apply to them either.
Nor do they have to worry about immigrant kids being locked up in
cages. Just recently, the Carpenters leadership has discovered that Trump is not our friend. That’s because his administration is now moving to undermine the building trades apprentice programs. Up until now, they all – including McCarron – were kissing up to Trump to beat the band. And did a single one of the paid staffers speak up against that betrayal of the working class? You can bet your (reduced) paycheck they didn’t.
Back in the day, we had a dynamic opposition caucus in my old local… and even beyond. We called ourselves “Working Carpenters for a Stronger Union” and we had a clear program and principles. One thing we were determined about: Nobody could be a member of our caucus nor even come to our caucus meetings if they applied for a job or worked for the union.
These staffers are a dime a dozen in the Carpenters and in all the unions. Another one I knew, she was an apprentice when women were just starting to break into the trades. I worked with her, and she told me I was the best journeyman she’d ever worked with. That was because I always tried to help and support her. Later, when she became a journeyperson, she decided to get on the career track for business agent. One night I went to visit her local meeting. I sat down next to her because I thought we were friends. She told me she’d prefer for me not to sit next to her. It hurt her career plans, you know. Sure enough, a year or so later she got her job and never looked back. These foot soldiers have been carrying out the policies that have led the labor movement to its present disastrous state of affairs. They, and all those who came before them, are the reason we’re in the disastrous state of affairs we’re in now.
One final point: there’s some union activists who devote a lot of effort to trying to get the members to come to meetings and turn out for events like picket lines that the union leadership organizes. But without a campaign to transform the union, to make it really fight for the members, what can they accomplish? All they’re really doing is mobilizing support for the failed policies of the union leadership. Some of these brothers and sisters are sincere. Others are simply being careful not to burn any bridges for their future careers.
What’s needed is an organized revolt from below. Here are some ideas on how.
And for a more in-depth of the background to what’s happened in the Carpenters Union and the labor movement as a whole, see our pamphlet What Happened to Our Unions?
by John Reimann, former recording secretary and expelled member, Carpenters Local 713